American Family Adventures Series — The Rose Parade

How to Attend The Rose Parade without paying a fortune for tickets

It’s very early in the morning, can you tell?

Tickets for the 126th Annual Rose Parade are now on sale. Yay! But…but you don’t really need tickets to the Rose Parade to attend the Rose Parade. And you don’t need to spend your New Year’s Eve in a tent on the side of a Pasadena road. I’ll tell you how your family can (and should) attend the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA cheaper than you ever thought possible.

When Michigan State defeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game on December 7, 2013, thus securing a spot in the famed Rose Bowl Game for the first time in 23 years (or since I’ve been a fan), the hamster wheel that’s been known to spin ’round and ’round in my feeble brain from time to time started going full throttle. I think there were sparks. It didn’t take long for me to come to the obvious conclusion: why not see the parade too? The plan came together quickly. There was no other way, the Rose Bowl Parade and Rose Bowl game were only 3 weeks away!

I’ve never been a parade guy. Local, city, national, whatever, meh. My mom still calls me every [insert days of the year when there’s a parade on TV] to ask if my girls are watching. Ummm, no, not usually. But the Rose Parade is something else entirely, with each and every float made entirely from natural pieces — fruits and vegetables — and, generally speaking, without the bloated, lip-synched pop star performances of other, lesser, parades. That’s pretty darn special. The Rose Parade, the Grandaddy of all colorful processions, is a parade I’ve always been keen to tune in to on New Year’s Day morning. Being there in person was even more amazing, a once in a lifetime experience I never thought I’d, you know, experience. You should try to experience it once too, with your young family, and I’m finally now about to tell you how to do this with relative comfort and without spending a fortune on tickets.

Tickets for the Rose Parade are experience, more than you’ll pay for most professional sporting events back home. They go on sale in the Spring of each year through Sharp Seating, they just went on sale last week in fact, but we bought ours in a bit of a scramble in mid-December a week or so after the Spartans won the Big Ten. So yeah, you don’t NEED to act fast but if you want seats early on the parade route and on the southern (facing north) shady side of the street, you won’t want to delay too long. But here’s the thing we found after spending nearly $300 to attend and park at the 2014 Rose Parade: you don’t need tickets and you don’t need to buy an expensive parking pass in advance either.

Here are some of the photos I took from our $68 seats high up on the grandstand at 1650 E Colorado, all taken with the Samsung NX300.

Cool photos, right? But here’s the thing: when seated in the $68 seats you are locked into a background (all my Rose Parade photos would seem to be sponsored by Pho’s Restaurant, but they were not unfortunately), seeing each parade float from the identical angle, and with the same tree/shade situation. The relative security of knowing you FOR CERTAIN HAVE A SEAT and, ummm, comfort (seated on a cold metal bench) of that seat doesn’t beat the ability to roam, for free, and change your family’s viewpoint and the lighting and angles in your photography. About half way through the parade, we abandoned our seats and hit the pavement. This was a fantastic idea.

Here are some shots taken once we left our seats and walked less than a block east, further down the parade route where many curbside spots were still available as were even more standing spots on the pavement and grassy strip between the walkway and Colorado Blvd. My young daughters could now really ‘feel’ the parade, see the famous exquisite detail on the floats up close, literally smell the roses, and watch the dignitaries, like Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame inductee Lynn Swann, pass by right by in front of them.

Super close up, right?! These photos were all taken with an 18-55mm lens so nothing super zoom-y. We were right there, standing 18″ behind the people who decided to camp out all night for a curb spot. I’m not judging, but I think we made out on that deal. Sure, early on the parade route the sidewalk and curbs are jampacked with people, we walked west a few blocks to a convenience store for some drinks and it was passable but as crowded as you’d imagine the whole route would be but it is absolutely not. Areas three and four along the route had tons of room to mill about, walk around and get very close to the street. And because the same floats pass by the final third of the route too, that is where I am suggesting you and your family plan to be, plan to wander, and plan to see the Rose Parade for free next year. Buy seated tickets if you still feel moved to do so, but you do not have to buy Rose Parade tickets to see the Rose Parade up close and personal. Use the money you saved on a hotel room…you’ll need it! The Hilton Garden Inn in Arcadia, 6 miles from 1650 Colorado, is $399 for New Year’s Eve. Gulp. Cheaper rates exist in and around L.A. and since you are likely driving into the Rose Parade early on New Year’s Day morning anyway, probably are a better option.

Getting into and then parking in Pasadena on Rose Parade morning is not pleasant. Your very early morning (plan to arrive into town between 6-7am at the latest, before they close Colorado thus making parking south of the route impossible) will be followed by bumper to bumper traffic and a parking scramble, this is true even if you prepaid for one of the parking lot spaces through Sharp Seating, which we did. So grab a milk steamer and a few pastries from a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and chill out as you inch along towards the parade route. The thing is, while trying desperately to get to that exact Area Three spot we already paid $30 for, we passed numerous street spots (legal and meterless) as well as countless Pasadena homeowner’s and business’ selling space in their driveways for $10, $15, and $20. In many cases, these were better spots than the one we paid for and sat in extra traffic to get eventually pull into.

Your family can and should see at least one Rose Parade and maybe even one Rose Bowl game (details on how to experience the game coming later this year). I hope these tips help you do so with ease and on budget. Have fun!

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